Reviewed by Alice Graham
If you ever read Oxford Today in bewilderment that so many of your contemporaries appear to be ultra-high achievers, and have wondered if an Oxford degree alone has projected them to such heights, then Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology might be for you. According to author Tim LeBon it takes ten years, or 10,000 hours of practicing, to become an expert or master in a chosen field. While intelligence or talent may play a part, it is likely that high fliers also follow certain strategies and behaviours that make success more likely. And these techniques are ones that anyone can learn.
Tim LeBon (Trinity, 1979) studied philosophy as part of PPE and later returned to the University to study at the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Therapy. He draws on his knowledge of philosophy and cognitive behavioural therapy to help clients, both privately and within the NHS, get more out of their lives. His first book, Wise Therapy, looked at how ancient philosophy can be used to make sense of modern concerns such as work, relationships and finding life’s purpose and meaning. In this latest book he tackles similar issues using Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology developed in the 1990s.
What began as academic psychology is now popular in therapy rooms, in business, education and even the military. LeBon is keen to point out that positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking. In positive psychology it is fine to have negative thoughts as long as you work through strategies to tackle the problem that causes them.
The aim of the book is to improve ‘subjective well-being’, which is a measurable form of happiness. The book invites the reader to work at improving subjective well-being by going through a series of pen and paper exercises. He backs up his suggestions with quotes from longitudinal studies and random controlled trials. These scientific credentials are important given the huge number of books on the market promising life-improvement. Despite the many references to scientific studies, this book is very much aimed at the average consumer who feels there is more to be had from life and needs a little help to flourish.
I found myself willingly engaging with the instructions and answering questionnaires designed to tell me how satisfied I am with life. The Teach Yourself style, with boxes, numbered points and summaries at the start and end of every chapter gives the book the look of an A-level revision aid. Each chapter begins and ends with questions – which feels a bit like a test to make sure that people are paying attention.
Despite an initial resistance, on a personal level I found the book really useful. An early questionnaire revealed that I was indeed slightly dissatisfied with my life and in need of a strategy to improve it. Over the next couple of days I noticed myself making noticeable changes: buying a diary, scheduling activities, writing down three good things that have happened every day. I am left feeling that even if positive psychology doesn’t set my career soaring it has been fun trying.
Listing image by Simon Harvey via Flickr.